EVANSTON – Daniel Hein repeated the word "history" several times after steering the DeKalb-Sycamore co-op boys swimming and diving team to a banner showing at Saturday's IHSA state finals.
That must mean he's fond of the subject at school, right?
"No, I just think it's awesome to be the first to do something," Hein said. "As a team, or as a relay, or an individual. I think that's awesome. Because you always remember the first one who did it. Not like the second or third. That's how I look at it."
The DeKalb-Sycamore co-op undoubtedly views Hein as a pioneer these days on each of the levels he mentioned above. For starters, the sophomore's third-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke at Evanston made him the first athlete in program history to place higher than fourth in an individual event.
Earlier in the day, he won the consolation championship to place seventh in the 100 butterfly (50.60) and was part of the 200 medley relay that opened the meet with a consolation title. Until this weekend, no DeKalb-Sycamore relay had ever qualified for a finals race – championship or consolation.
Are you writing all this down, students? Here's one more thing: It all added up to 33 points and a 12th-place team finish, also the best in program history.
"It's just great to see all the hard work throughout the season pay off, especially at the state meet, and considering last year we didn't do so hot," Hein said. "To come back and redeem ourselves is just a great overall meet."
Hein, who did not qualify for any finals as a freshman, turned in a personal record with his swim of 50.28 in the 100 backstroke.
He gained plenty of momentum in the first race of the day, as the 200 medley relay quartet of Hein (backstroke), Ryan Schultz (breaststroke), Dylan Powers (butterly) and Holden Mackey (freestyle) set the tone in the program's first final.
Relieved of any inner pressure, the relay shaved seven-tenths of a second from the team record it established in Friday's prelims, finishing the consolation finals in 1:35.12, 0.19 seconds ahead of Neuqua Valley.
"We just kind of had a 'nothing to lose' attitude today," DeKalb-Sycamore coach Leah Eames said. "All the guys knew that there were a few areas they could improve upon and they wanted to focus on that and go even faster, and they did."
Hein, Schultz, Powers and Mackey rushed to embrace one another as soon as Mackey climbed out of the pool after finishing the final leg.
A group that grew up competing together for the DeKalb County Swim Team at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA surveyed the surroundings and smiled, knowing how much they had come of age.
"We've evolved from a team to more of a family now," Mackey said.
That camaraderie added to the enjoyment of watching Hein later in the afternoon. Call it an extension of all those workouts together, just with bigger stakes and a larger stage.
"He's the first one in the pool for high school season. Almost every single day, he's the first one in the pool. And he's always the last one out," Mackey said. "He takes full advantage of all the warmup and pushes it all the way through practice. He always gives 100 [percent]. I've never seen Daniel give anything less than his all. Daniel's always had one of the greatest work ethics I've ever seen."
Hein blazed through the 100 backstroke with more than history on his mind.
He had internalized Eames' advice to keep kicking his legs to avoid getting too high in the water, but also was hoping his teammates had delivered on a pre-race favor.
"I told my teammates, I said, 'Guys, bring me my phone. I need to have some fun. I've got to have some fun with the last event. Take a selfie on the blocks [during awards],' " Hein said. "And I think that kind of motivated me to do better. I got third and I was jacked. So happy."
The feeling figures to be mutual around this program for some time.
"It's pretty much all about making history," Hein said.